Islanders Enter Free Agency with Internal & External Targets

As the New York Islanders head into free agency on Wednesday at noon, there’s a lot to digest for fans. For the first time in a long while, this team may look a little different come training camp. Trades sent Nick Leddy and Andrew Ladd out the door and Jordan Eberle was left exposed to the Seatle Kraken in the expansion draft, clearing much-needed cap space for general manager Lou Lamoriello. In addition, Michael Dal Colle, a 2014 first-round pick by then-general manager Garth Snow, was not qualified and will be a UFA along with a few others. On top of all of that, many questions are swirling around the team’s restricted and unrestricted free agents, not to mention who they might add from outside the organization.

Should they re-sign Kyle Palmieri? How big of a raise should Adam Pelech or Anthony Beauvillier get? Will the team be the same if Casey Cizikas asks for too much money and term? And that’s just the players closest to the team. What about the big fish? What will they have room for under the cap? As the Islanders – and all of their fans – prepare for Wednesday’s frenzy, let’s go over some of the highlights and questions.

Restricted Free Agents

For the team’s restricted free agents, there isn’t a lot of discussion about if they’re returning, but how much will Ilya Sorokin, Pelech, and Beauvillier cost. For Sorokin, the guesses seem to fall into the $2 million to $3 million range depending on the term, which feels fair and keeps the goaltending tandem cost under $10 million per season. Beauvillier appears to be in the $4 million to $5 million range, and that number could be held down with a home-team discount along with an argument from management that his inconsistent play doesn’t warrant the high end of the range. Keeping the cost down is a good idea in general, but when you need to re-sign one of your top defenders in Pelech, it’s flat-out necessary.

Pelech, along with many other talented Islander players, just started to get recognition around the NHL for their solid play. The Pelech-Ryan Pulock pairing is often considered one of the best in the league, which doesn’t bode well for Lamoriello’s wallet. Estimates have Pelech making between $5 and $6 million per year for six or seven years. With some contracts coming off the books next summer – Leo Komarov and Thomas Hickey – and the skill Pelech brings to the table, Lamoriello will be willing to pay up.

Unrestricted Free Agents

The two players the Islanders are trying to retain on this side of things are Palmieri and Casey Cizikas. To start, there’s never much anyone knows about Lamoriello’s thoughts, but in this case, Sportnet’s Elliotte Friedman had this to say in regard to Palmieri: “[I] haven’t heard a thing, which means the Islanders probably have him locked up.” That should have fans feeling good, that is until they see what he’s signed for.

Cizikas is another story. He has been with the Islanders his entire career and carved out a niche role for himself over the years, especially during the Barry Trotz era. Cizikas’ linemates, Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck, have expressed what he means to the team, most recently at the end of the 2020-21 season.

Like his teammates, Lamoriello also knows how important Cizikas is to the team. “There’s no question what Casey Cizikas has brought to the team. We will do everything we possibly can to try and have him come back,” Lamoriello said. “Certainly, his set of circumstances is unique and also maybe positive because he’s a UFA and we do not have to make any decisions with [protecting him in the expansion draft].

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Outside of the organization, the Islanders have been linked to a number of “big fish” free agents along with others to help fill in the space left by Leddy’s departure. Landeskog’s name has been associated with the Islanders going back nearly two weeks, and with the added cap space, Lamoriello may be taking a big swing come noon on Wednesday. There were rumors that the Islanders were interested in Gabriel Landeskog, but he re-signed with the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday.

In addition to the big fish, there’s been a lot of attention in the media about Zach Parise and his connection to the Islanders via Lamoriello. Parise would provide another veteran on the roster and could be a nice addition next to J.G. Pageau and mentor to youngster Oliver Wahlstrom. If he can sign a cheap deal, around $1 million, the Islanders may not be able to sign him fast enough.

The Islanders’ back end isn’t any easier to figure out. With Leddy gone, the Islanders have a hole to fill on their second pairing next to Scott Mayfield. Noah Dobson isn’t 100% ready to take on second pairing minutes, so Lamoriello will need to find someone to eat Leddy’s minutes. Parise’s teammate in Minnesota, Ryan Suter, was linked to the Islanders for some time, but recent reports have mentioned the two are unlikely to sign together again. Not only that, Bob McKenzie reported talk around Suter and the Dallas Stars was getting louder. Alec Martinez was also linked to the Islanders as an option, though he just resigned with the Golden Knights.

Alex Goligoski is also an interesting option, even if his age may concern many Isles fans. However, he does continue to put up decent numbers and could fit into the Islanders’ system well, as many others have before him.

There aren’t a ton of other options to fill Leddy’s spot, especially not internally. It will be interesting to see if Lamoriello can surprise us with an off-the-board signing as options on the UFA market shrink.

Islander fans will be glued to their phones and computers at noon on Wednesday, waiting for any and all information to leak out of Long Island. Lamoriello certainly has his hands full, but there always seems to be a plan, even if we don’t see it right away.

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